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Measuring success: An innovative approach to evaluating Indigenous higher education

A new report has called for urgent reform in the evaluation of Indigenous higher education policy and practice if student outcomes are to continue improving.

The research, led by Professor James Smith under a National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellowship, recommends the development of a performance and evaluation strategy, supported by improved collaboration between Indigenous leaders, government and universities.

“While there has been notable investment in Indigenous higher education over the past few years, there is limited publicly available evaluation evidence about program and policy effectiveness,” Professor Smith said.

“This report outlines ways to strengthen evaluation, including a conceptual model of potential performance parameters. This should be used as a baseline for developing strategies and actions associated with the development of a National Indigenous Higher Education Performance and Evaluation Strategy.”

The Fellowship project, hosted through Charles Darwin University, unpacked current knowledge about evaluation in Indigenous higher education and incorporated 38 individual interviews and one group interview with Indigenous scholars and policymakers.

“The study asked questions about the current challenges and opportunities associated with undertaking evaluation; the enablers and barriers associated with using evaluation in policy and programs; and ways to strengthen evaluation,” Professor Smith said.

“The interviews yielded three key themes: the conceptualisation of ‘evaluation’ as a broad term; a greater appreciation of qualitative methodologies and evidence; and the need for greater accountability of governments and universities, and accountability to community.”

Fourteen enablers and drivers were identified which—if harnessed appropriately—may enhance evaluation. These included Indigenous leadership, knowledges, and recognition of sovereign rights; funding and resources; curricula; strategy and policy development, implementation and reform; and cultural competence and accreditation.

“Recognising that all of these enablers and drivers relate to domains of control mediated through Indigenous stakeholders; government; and universities, is important,” Professor Smith said.

“Strategies that support these domains of control to work more cohesively, or in some instances privilege Indigenous forms of control, are more likely to reap success.”

The Fellowship’s 17 recommendations reinforce previous calls to develop a National Indigenous Higher Education Performance and Evaluation Strategy; and to foster an increased focus on the value of qualitative evidence—including stories and narratives—in reporting and evaluation. A suite of Indigenous-specific higher education targets, incorporated into the Australian Government Closing the Gap initiative, is also proposed.

“The report presents informed opportunities to strengthen evaluation in Indigenous higher education, spanning research, policy, and practice,” NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad said.

“Notably, the research team has identified the shared responsibility for accountability between universities and the government, involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders.”

The full report, Strengthening evaluation within Indigenous higher education contexts in Australia, is available here.

The Equity Fellows Program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

Media contact:

Nina-Marie Thomas
Media and Communications Officer
National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education
Tel | +61 8 9266 3721
Email |

Posted 18 June 2018 Posted in